- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

ATLANTA — The talk during the Washington Wizards’ six-game losing streak has been about playing the right way, developing good habits, keeping their heads held high.

Turns out, all they really needed were the Atlanta Hawks.

The Wizards cruised to a 98-85 victory at Philips Center, ending their longest losing streak of the season. The last time Washington had lost seven in a row was in 2003-04.

The Wizards (40-39) closed the first half on a 12-0 run and built a 23-point lead in the fourth quarter. The 85 points for the Hawks tied a season low by a Wizards opponent.

The win kept Washington in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The New Jersey Nets, who defeated the New York Knicks last night, remain two games behind the Wizards in the seventh spot with just three games left.

DeShawn Stevenson led Washington with a game-high 25 points. Atlanta native Jarvis Hayes scored 20 and notched six assists with 50 friends and family members in attendance. Hayes has scored in double figures in five of the last six games.

Antonio Daniels, starting in place of the injured Gilbert Arenas, notched his third double-double (16 points, 12 assists) in the last six games, and Michael Ruffin had eight points and nine rebounds.

The only drawback in the win was Daniels getting knocked to the ground by the Hawks’ Solomon Jones in the third quarter while attempting a layup. Daniels lay on the ground for almost a minute, and a flagrant foul was called.

According to initial reports, Daniels has a lower back contusion. In the locker room following the game, every move he made was accompanied by a grimace.

After the Wizards closed the second quarter on a 12-0 run, coach Eddie Jordan informed his team in the locker room the second half was perhaps their most important half of the season.

“We talked in terms of this maybe being the most meaningless game in the whole world to everybody else, but for the next 24 minutes it’s the most important game that we would play, and they went out and did the same thing that we wanted them to do,” Jordan said.

Washington’s lead remained in double figures for the entire second half.

Marvin Williams led the Hawks (29-50) with 24 points, while former Wizards guard Tyronn Lue finished with 16 points and 10 assists.

During their losing streak, the Wizards hadn’t played poorly, losing close games to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heat and the Nets, all of whom are playoff bound.

Hayes said the losing never became a mental burden.

“I don’t know if it ever got mental with us,” Hayes said. “We just couldn’t close out games in the end. It was one of those things where we’re trying to find our way. It’s just been coming down to us not being able to make the plays or get a stop. We made them tonight, and hopefully we can keep doing it to the end of the season and into the playoffs.”

The Hawks, who haven’t reached the playoffs since 1999, were missing some of their better players, and the result was almost predictable.

They came into last night’s game having lost 10 of their last 12 and — as with most poor teams that have given up on the season — they weren’t playing with a deep roster.

Gone from the Hawks’ starting lineup were players who played significant roles in Atlanta’s 100-97 victory against Washington on March 7.

Josh Smith, who always seems to play well against the Wizards, was serving the second of a two-game suspension for cursing out coach Mike Woodson at the end of an overtime loss to Philadelphia. Also out of the lineup was starting center Zaza Pachulia, suffering from a leg injury. Pachulia punished the Wizards in their last meeting with a career-high 27 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

Note — The Wizards’ home game tomorrow against the Chicago Bulls, originally scheduled for 3:30 p.m., has been changed to a 1 p.m. start.

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